How to Avoid the Dreaded Wall of Text

You put thought into your writing and you want people to read through your emails, blog posts, and political Facebook rants. You may expect your thoughts to stand alone no matter how much time you put into formatting your writing, but this is not the case.

How to Avoid the Dreaded Wall of Text: 8 Practical Formatting Tips

If you have ever opened up an email to be barraged with a solid wall of words, you know that people's brains automatically slide over writing when there is no formatting.

Let's check out this article written side by side with identical content but different formatting. At first glance, which would you be most likely to start reading? If you're normal, you'd pick number 2.

 

The Importance of Text Formatting for Legibility

Here are the reasons why you should care about the way you format your writing in emails, articles, or any written communication.

  • You want people to start reading what you wrote
  • Once they start reading, you want them to keep reading
  • People are lazy and will not keep reading unless the reading process is easy, especially if they could quickly do a Google search to find a similar source of information
  • You want people to get your point (I have received coworkers' emails with questions that I have not been able to answer because I can't comprehend their bad grammar and run on sentences)

Nobody should ever have to copy and paste your message into a word processor and manually copy edit your writing into paragraphs and complete sentences to be able to comprehend what you're saying. I have had to do that before. Those times have inspired this post.

 

8 Practical Ways to Improve Your Text Formatting


Use Headers

Use headers to label main ideas.

 

Put Important Content Towards the Top

You should make your main point in the first couple lines of your writing. If there's an important link, include that as soon as possible.

 

Include White Space Between Paragraphs

Leave spaces in between your paragraphs. Don't have one paragraph end and the next one start only one line below, but make sure there is a line of white in between.
Don't just make a single line break like this with new paragraphs.
This is not a good way to format paragraphs and sentences on a new line.
It simulates a wall of text, even if you have your writing broken into paragraphs.

This is what you want instead. White space between paragraphs leaves visual breathing room.

 

Limit Exclamation Points!!!

Don't overload the reader with excessive exclamation points! Your use of exclamation points should be inversely proportional to your desired level of perceived professionalism!

Most likely the things you have to say aren't as exciting as you think!

 

Use Bullet Points

  • Use bullet points and numbered lists whenever possible.
  • This will make your writing easy to skim.
  • Numbered lists are especially helpful when there is a step-by-step process being outlined. Here's how to make a numbered list.
    1. Open your word processor.
    2. Type some words.
    3. Click the numbered list icon.
    4. Magic happens!

 

Highlight Call-to-Actions

If you're emailing coworkers and are asking them a direct question in the body of the email:

  • Include their name in the "Dear so-and-so" at the beginning of the email.
  • Break the question onto its own line.
  • Write their name before the question.
  • Bold or highlight their name so they won't miss it.

For example:

DANNY: Could you please send me the programming time estimate for the first three edits?

 

Use a Single Email Thread for Conversations

Please never start a new email thread with every new thought in a conversation. This clogs inboxes and makes it hard to follow the conversation. Instead of clicking "Compose" to create a blank email thread, hit "Reply" to the previous email.

A variant of this: Don't just write a sentence in the subject line and hit send. Please use the subject line as a short title and elaborate in the body of the email.

 

Link URLs

If you're including a link in your writing or email, please make sure the URL is linked to the webpage so people don't have to manually copy and paste the link.

Gmail currently automatically creates links from properly formatted links — just make sure you've included the www. or http:// at the beginning so Gmail can detect the URL.


Let's all work together to improve our formatting! Our colleagues, blog post readers, and friends will love us for it.


What tips do you have for increasing legibility?